The late 1960s were times of epic change and turmoil. Riots and protests spread through U.S. cities, amidst racial tensions and opposition to an unpopular war in Vietnam. A number of political leaders were assassinated. Geopolitical tensions in North Korea and Southeast Asia threatened to spawn World War III. About 1 million people worldwide died of a respiratory virus pandemic that began in China. All norms, standards and traditions were being challenged by a global youth-led counterculture movement.
Amidst the unrest came a surprising movement emanating from Southern California’s Orange County.
An evangelical Christian religious revival centered among former drug addicts, bikers, hippies, astrologists and counterculturals began in Los Angeles and Orange counties in 1968. It rapidly spread up and down the West Coast; then across the U.S.; and finally overseas to Europe, Central America, Australasia and other places.
By 1971, the movement was front-page news around the world. The June 21 cover of Time magazine proclaimed the “Jesus Revolution” that was transforming America’s youth and young adults.
The Associated Press even named the movement among its top 10 stories of the year.
Dubbed the Jesus Movement, the revival had a number of factions. Some were cultic in expression, but many others adhered to mainstream evangelical Christianity. The movement was a major part of what historians and scholars, including economist Robert Fogel, often call the Fourth Great Awakening – a period in the late 20th century in which conservative Judeo-Christian belief and practice again became a major force in American and global society.
From contemporary Christian music to the religious right to nondenominational and post-denominational churches, the legacy of the Orange County-birthed Jesus Movement continues in most communities across the Western world.
The Jesus Movement’s Birthplace in Costa Mesa
If there were a single location that could be considered the origin of the Jesus Movement, it would be Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.
In 1965, Chuck Smith, a graduate of Santa Ana High School and San Dimas’ Life Pacific University, assumed the pastorate of the church, which at the time was a congregation of only 25 people.
Chuck Smith’s wife, Kay, felt a burden to minister to the multitudes of hippies, many homeless and substance abusing, that lived on the beaches and in the parks and streets of Orange County at the time.
Soon, scores of young hippies were attending the doctrinally conservative Calvary Chapel, and within a few years, the church’s growth to 2,000 congregants necessitated meeting outdoors in a tent.
Calvary Chapel was influential in the founding of group homes in which former drug addicts could start a new life. Many eventually entered full-time ministry themselves, resulting in the founding and spread of such denominational expressions as Calvary Chapel and Anaheim-based Vineyard churches.
Visiting the Epicenter, a Half Century Later
Today, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, located at 3800 S. Fairview Street in Santa Ana, has more than 10,000 attendees, a K-12 private school, and even a professional building housing a number of ministries and commercial interests, including a Christian radio station.
The most accessible part of the campus for the visitor is The Chapel Store, which sells Christian books (including a good many on the history of the Jesus Movement and its continuing legacy), art and gift items. There is also a large clearance area and some vintage books, including early Biblical commentaries. The store is open daily except Mondays.
If you take in a service, lecture or event on the sprawling campus, be sure to check out the display on the history of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, which is located in the Fellowship Hall. It’s a look back at the height of the Jesus Movement, in photo.
Another spot to visit is Pirate’s Cove Beach in Newport Beach’s Corona del Mar neighborhood, just across the strait from the Balboa Peninsula. The calm waters of this beach made it an ideal place for large baptisms during the height of the Jesus Movement. Such beach baptisms became one of the most memorable aspects of the movement.
The beach is accessible by parking in the Corona del Mar neighborhood and accessing Lookout Point Park (a great spot to photograph a dramatic sunrise or sunset) at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Heliotrope Avenue. Stairs lead down to the beach.
For More on the Jesus Movement
Interested in learning more about the surprising religious movement that began in Orange County? A great place to start is by reading Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today, a 2018 book written by Jesus Movement convert and evangelist Greg Laurie and New York Times bestselling author Ellen Vaughn.
Looking at the history of the late 1960s and early 1970s, compared with conditions at present, Laurie and Vaughn examine how the Jesus Movement developed and grew, and how a repeat of such a movement might well be in America’s future.